Woodland Bowl, Toasty Stoneware/Submitted by Blackbird Pottery

Blackbird Pottery inspired by elements, landscape, nostalgia

By Sue Tiffin

April Gates moved to the Highlands to study ceramics at the Haliburton School of Art and Design. Almost two decades later, she’s still here after falling in love with clay, and the area, with her work and business evolving over that time.

Gates said she had a background in the arts – in image making via painting, drawing, block printing and photography – before she found clay.

“When I started to understand clay and started to make more competent forms, they felt incomplete,” she said. “Traditional glazes were not for me.”
Instead, Gates began to explore alternatives that make her work pop with colour and detailed personal touches.

“It was natural for me to be drawn to surface decoration, so through research, trial and error, I started to develop techniques and unique imagery inspired by the elements, landscape and nostalgia,” she said.

“Through painting, drawing, etching, resist, image transfer and mishima, my pieces grew into a body of work.”

Gates has amassed a fan following, both for her classes and workshops, and her work itself.

‘Bay Moon’ tumbler set, Cast Stoneware/Submitted by Blackbird Pottery

“I think that people who are drawn towards hand-crafted work, are most affected by the feeling a piece evokes,” she said. “With pots, they are such personal and intimate objects, all of the little details count. Surface, weight, balance, shape, tone, colour, message, purpose. Drinking vessels, bowls and special collector pieces such as Woodland Bowls and Memory Boxes are among the most popular items.”

This work, said Gates, keeps evolving as she tries new materials, techniques and further develops forms.

“I think this is why people like to visit, the work evokes a different feel and story, and it’s always in motion,” she said. “I’ve got a big airy studio at the Donald Schoolhouse, and it’s the perfect space to work in.”

Gates said she is often more comfortable in her studio than her home, and spends more waking hours there.

“What keeps this path interesting for me, besides the unpredictable nature of having a career in the arts, is that when you have a passion for a material, you just keep learning, I feel blessed by that,” she said.

‘Ode to Joni’ Map of Canada Platter set, Porcelain /Submitted by Blackbird Pottery

“Clay in particular poses never-ending challenges and opportunities. The medium and the processes involved to see a project or intention through, are hands-on but also philosophical. Patience, resilience, flexibility and commitment are required,” said Gates.

Post-Studio Tour, Blackbird Pottery will have a more permanent online shop available, and will be promoting dinner sets as a focus for the winter. Schoolhouse pop-up outdoor markets, in which Gates invites special guests to exhibit on the grounds of the Donald Schoolhouse that Blackbird Pottery calls home have been welcomed, and Gates teased there is more to come on the Gelert Road property that the studio has featured at for five years now.

“This old schoolhouse property has so much potential,” she said. “I see a window of opportunity to return to some original dreams.”

Blackbird Pottery is Studio Q on this season’s Studio Tour, located at 5843 Gelert Road. Blackbird Pottery can be reached at april@blackbirdpottery.ca or by phone at 705-457-4619.